The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
January 02, 2018
Daniel Coyle turns his reporter's eye from maximizing individual potential to the potential of groups.
"The saddest thing in life is wasted talent." —Robert De Niro as Lorenzo in A Bronx Tale
I love that quote, and A Bronx Tale is one of my favorite movies, but I think there one thing in life sadder than wasted talent: undeveloped talent. To waste talent is, at least, a choice. There are too many people who never realize the talent they have inside them, who don't have a teacher to help develop or bring it out in them, or the circumstances in which to do so. Imagine a world in which everyones' talents could be realized. Daniel Coyle has moved us closer to it, and made a dent in the world's unhappiness, by writing books that teach us how to unlock and maximize the potential in ourselves and others. His books on talent development, The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, are hallmarks of the field.
And he has now turned his attention from individuals' potential to realizing the potential of groups. And, to realize the potential of any group, a strong culture is key. We all seem to know this, Coyle writes, even if we're not sure why or how to build one:
We all want strong culture in our organizations, communities, and families. We all know that it works. We just don't know quite how it works.
Coyle's new book, The Culture Code, begins with a question that leaders of all companies of people—from countries and corporations, to sports teams, militaries, and schools—have asked themselves: "Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?"
To begin answering that question, Coyle explains why teams of kindergartners outperform every other group of people in the Peter Skillman Marshmallow Design Challenge ("including the lowest performing group of all—business school students"). It comes down to a focus on the task at hand, and working together energetically toward accomplishing it, rather than constructing rules to follow, focusing on others' perception of you, and managing your status within the group. Not every task is analogous to the marshmallow design challenge, but the lessons the experiment reveals about optimally performing cultures and the skills needed to build them are universal.
With the same eye he used to dissect individual performance, Coyle looks at a diverse array of groups, ranging from an inner-city school to a gang of Serbian jewel thieves, to see how they do it—to determine what makes their cultures propel them to be amongst the world's most successful at what they do. The three skills Coyle identifies and writes about in The Culture Code—to Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose—are seemingly simple, but they require constant attention and diligence to maintain. And though he boils it down to three basic rules, culture is not a static series of steps, but a dynamic, continual interaction of real people in an ever-evolving world. As he puts it:
While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it's not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It's not something you are. It's something you do.
It is "something you do." In other words, it is work. I can't think of any greater New Year's resolution than to put in time and energy toward the Sisyphean, yet always rewarding, work of building culture. Daniel Coyle will help show you the way. The book doesn't come out until the end of the month, but we have 50 advanced copies of The Culture Code available for those of you eager to get started right away.